OtherSpace: The Price of Expedience – Installment 1

In June 28, 1998, OtherSpace MUSH kicked off with a series of story arcs that introduced players to the universe of the Stellar Consortium, Fringe, and Parallax. Now, 22 years later, I’m revisiting the formerly shared space opera narrative to tell a similar story – with just my characters – for a new audience. Patrons may find themselves peppered into the narrative as characters, starships, locations, or historical figures. Enjoy!

David Ransom Porter, captain of the Vanguard scout ship Minerva, leaned forward in his chair and said: “This can’t go on.”

The brown-haired woman with the black eye and the shoulder sling across the desk from him didn’t flinch from his gaze. She didn’t immediately respond, however. She twisted her mouth into a scowl. He could practically see the excuse forming before his first officer uttered it – and so he interrupted, raising a palm.

“Don’t bother,” Porter said. “Save it for the written report. Right now, I want you to listen.”

He waited a beat, but Dierdre Staunton’s impatience overwhelmed her: “I didn’t start it this time.”

“I don’t care, Commander.” For the moment, he overlooked her impertinence. “I’m left cleaning up your mess again. This is the third time. The *last* time.”

“You don’t want to hear my side?” she asked.

“Almost certainly not.”

The first time, in the Lamplighter Tavern on Citadel Base, she’d tried to cheat a groundpounder in a game of poker. He’d pulled his pulse pistol, backed by a few of his pals. She’d used her special forces training to neutralize his friends and left him, if not permanently crippled, at least long-term limping thanks to a major hip injury.

The second time, in Armstrong City on Luna, she’d tried to intercede in a lovers’ quarrel between two civilians in Aldrin’s and beat the man so badly that the girlfriend – arms bruised where he’d held on so tightly, trying to drag her out of the bar – called police to report Staunton for assault.

Now, here they were, dealing with another incident. He didn’t want to search for a new first officer. On duty, on a mission, Dee Staunton was the best right hand he could request.

Like Porter, though, she was a disaster without the mission. The captain just did a better job of keeping his problems to himself.

“Have *you* ever been groped by a Zangali, Dave?”

The captain sighed. He stared at the ceiling. “Not recently, no.”

“They’re not gentle,” she said. “They’ve got claws.”

“And the guy who…”

Staunton shook her head. “Female.”

Porter’s eyebrows arched. “Really?”

“Oh, *now* you want to hear my side?”

He shook his head. “No. Definitely not.” Porter reached for the datapad on his desk and held it up in his right hand. “I received the complaint from the bartender in the Van Allen Belts Tavern.”

She crossed her arms. “Pretty sure you’re obligated to hear my side.” Staunton gave a nod toward the datapad. “Check the regs.”

Porter sighed. He set the datapad back on the desk. “I know the regs.” He shrugged. “Fine. Tell me your side.”

“Thank you so much,” she said, edging forward in her seat. She rested her left forearm on the captain’s desk. “So, I was sitting at the bar, minding my own business, when this Zangali plops down next to me and asks my name. I tell her I’m not intere-”

“Her. How’d you know she was female?”

“All Zangali look alike to you, Captain? You know how that sounds, right?”

He stared flatly at her, patience thinning. “Let’s just say I’ve never looked that close.”

“The scalp rills,” Staunton said. “Females have a single row of spines. Males have triple rows.” She smirked. “Probably compensating for something.”

“Anyway,” Porter replied.

“Anyway,” she said. “I tell her I’m not interested. She won’t take no for an answer. Puts an arm around me.”

He checked the information on his datapad display: “The right arm?”

“No.” Staunton shook her head. “She was sitting on my right, so this was her left arm. The right arm’s later.”

“Later. Okay.”

“She gets handsy.” A pause, then: “Well, clawsy, if we’re being totally accurate. Tells me they don’t make ‘em soft like me down in the Martian caverns.” Staunton gave a taut smile. “So that’s when I nail her in the chest with my right elbow. She staggers back off the stool and crashes onto the floor. I’m willing to let it go with that warning. Go back to my drink. Next thing I know, my new girlfriend’s slamming my face into the bar counter, giving me this fabulous shiner.”

“And that’s when…”

“She tries to throttle me with her right arm.”

“And you…”

“Catch her arm, twist it behind her back, and snap it at the elbow.” She rubbed her right shoulder. “Not easy, Captain.”

“I suppose not,” the captain agreed.

“The brig, then?” Staunton asked.

Porter considered it, but then shook his head. “I’ll chalk this one up to self defense. It matches what the bartender reported.”

She tilted her head, eyes narrowing. “So we’re done?”

“Almost.”

“Almost?” Her arms crossed again. “What?” She caught his raised eyebrows. “What, sir?” she corrected.

He plucked the datapad off his desk. “After the Aldrin’s incident, I recommended anger therapy. Did you follow up?” He knew the answer; he just wanted an admission.

Staunton looked at the ceiling. “We had that thing on Sivad.” She waved a dismissive hand.

The captain smirked. “And then the thing on Demaria. And then the thing on G’ahnlo. And then the thing on Mars. There’s always another thing somewhere. But we can access the virtual therapist *anywhere*. Like, in your quarters. We’re not due on Val Shohob for six hours. Squeeze in a session while we’re in transit.”

She huffed. “Yes, sir.”

Porter opened his mouth to dismiss the commander, but then his commbud tingled in his right ear. He raised a hand to signal Staunton to stay. He linked the call to the desktop speaker panel so the commander could hear the discussion. “Porter here. Go ahead.”

“Captain,” came the voice of the Minerva’s communications officer, Lt. Jane Blankenship. “We’ve received a transmission from the Centauran government. A Consortium ship has entered their system.”

The captain furrowed his brow. “Centauri is a Consortium member system. Consortium ships enter their territory all the time.”

“This one’s different, sir.”

“How so?”

“It’s the Tycho, sir.”

Porter blinked. He shifted his attention from the speaker panel to his first officer. Staunton shrugged and mouthed: “The what?”

“Put them through,” Porter said. During the pause, while Blankenship made the connection, he muted the commbud and asked, “What did they teach you at Colorado Springs?” He couldn’t imagine how she would’ve made it through the Fundamentals of OtherSpace Technology course without delving into the mysterious disappearance of the Consortium freighter Tycho in 2598 – 52 years ago. Ten years before Porter had been born on the float in the Gulf of Mexico, aboard his family’s luxury liner, the Pendragon.

In fact, the captain recalled learning about the Tycho during his virtual primary school in the Florida Gulfside community of Lake Wales, back when he was nine.

“You really never heard of it?” he asked.

She rubbed her forehead. “I might’ve missed that day,” she said.

Finally, Blankenship linked the Centauran representative to the captain’s quarters. 

“We are Keeper Xynlyphylklyr,” the representative intoned in a digitized male voice. The alien’s image materialized in a blue haze above Porter’s desk: a slowly rotating crystalline entity, similar to an Earth jellyfish in configuration, with a wide bell and dangling tendrils that tinkled like chimes. “We have attempted to make contact with the vessel, but have received no response.”

“Are you looking for permission to board and salvage?” Porter asked. He knew that would be a decision for the Stellar Consortium Council, not a front-line commander. “That’s a little outside my authority.”

The Centauran answered: “No, we do seek salvage rights. We seek Vanguard intervention. We do not know where this vessel has been. We do not know why it has appeared in our system. If anyone is aboard, we are unaware of their intentions.”

“What would you like us to do?”

“Investigate,” the Keeper replied. “And give us a reason not to destroy the Tycho.”

The Minerva’s current orders called for her to pick up a diplomat from the planet Val Shohob so that he could be shuttled to Earth to speak to the Council about his world’s potential membership in the Stellar Consortium.

“We can take a look on our way back from our next stop,” Porter said.

“Our data indicates that you are less than two hours from the Centauri system.”

“We’ve got orders,” he said.

“In three hours, if no one arrives from the Vanguard, we will obliterate the derelict.” Xynlyphylklyr terminated the link. Its image faded from view.

Staunton forced a smile. “I hear you can take virtual anger therapy *anywhere*.”

Porter rolled his eyes.

“Seriously,” she said. “What’s the plan?”

He scoffed. “It’s the Tycho, Dee. The Mystic on Val Shohob can wait. Get to the bridge and redirect nav to Centauri.” Frowning, he added, “And tell Blankenship to get Vanguard Command on the line. I’ll need the general to run interference for us with the Council.”

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Wes Platt

Lead storyteller. Game designer and journalist. Recovering Floridian.

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